There are countless sites that will organise a road trip for you but there is nothing more rewarding and fun than doing it on your own.
Road trips are wonderful but they can also be disastrous if not planned properly. Of course it’s not about micromanaging every single step of the way, otherwise where are the element of surprise and the rush of adventure? But it’s always good to design the route beforehand and consider the budget, climate, distance between town A and town B, local culture, etc.
It might feel tedious to begin with but once you are caught in the rhythm you will realise that preparing for a road trip can be almost as exciting as the trip itself. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but bare with me, follow the steps, embrace your inner organiser, and enjoy the ride!
1- Pick a Country or Region
First, let’s choose a destination. Are you feeling in the mood for some Italian countryside? Maybe you would like to get to every corner of the Balkan Peninsula? Or explore the most beautiful coastal towns in northern Spain?
If you don’t really have any specific country or region in mind, a quick Google search on things that interest you could be a great inspiration. For example:
- Wine regions in Europe
- Roman Empire trade routes
- Game of Thrones locations
If you are like me, you would always have at least 3 destinations where you feel you HAVE to go next. If that is the case and can’t decide or you just did a quick search like I explained above but are still trying to make up your mind, check these 3 points to make your choice once and for all:
- time of the year
- length of holidays
- rental car/flights prices
Success! You have a country or region, now you can start planning the road trip of your dreams!
2- Legalities, License, and the Boring Bits
Yes, playing the tourist card can sometimes get you out of sticky situations when abroad but you should always do some research on the important and more legal aspects of your trip abroad:
- traffic laws
- what kind of driver’s license you need
- car insurance differences or needs
- general procedures and adequate behaviour when police stops you while driving
It might be the least fun part of your road trip planning time but it’s essential to having an easy-going trouble-free journey.
3- Decide on a Road Trip Style
Now, you have a destination AND you know the law but what kind of road trip do you have in mind? Will you drive for long hours every day? Or do you prefer short distances from one place to another? Are you staying overnight in every town? Will you end your trip where you started it?
There are many ways to do it, here are my 3 favourite styles when hitting the road.
The Base Camp:
This one is the perfect compromise between a chilled holiday and a more adventurous one.
With The Base Camp you get to drive and discover different parts of a region without having to worry about where to spend each night and without the (sometimes) hassle of packing and moving your belongings around every day. It is ideal for beginner roadtrippers.
It is also usually the cheapest option. By staying at the same accommodation for the whole trip, you can get better prices than if you would book each night in a different location. It is also more budget friendly to fly to and from the same airport and to collect and give a rental car back from the same spot.
The journeys to each destination shouldn’t be longer than 2 or 3 hours since you will need to come back to your starting point every evening. You can combine longer days with shorter ones and spend a couple of days in between in the city you are based on for a relaxed experience.
This trip is perfect for discovering areas in a more intimate way or explore wider regions.
The Nomad is the most flexible road trip option. It opens up a lot of possibilities to explore a region at will. You would start a point A and finish at point B, everything in between depends on how much freedom or comfort you wish for. You could plan every stop and book every accommodation in advance or go with the flow and see where the road takes you.
Since you are not attached to a main base, you can spend the night wherever you feel like you should visit in more depth. It is a more immersive way of travelling that allows you to interact with the locals from different towns more extensively. The journeys from one place to another become also more flexible compared to The Base Camp, allowing you to have long driving days often and cover a bigger scope.
If time is not an issue, it could also allow you to do the opposite and drive only for an hour each day and focus more on outdoors activities, getting to know the locals, or indulging in every town’s special culinary delight.
This one combines the best aspects of The Base Camp and The Nomad.
As you would do with The Base Camp, you make the starting point also the finishing one. As explained there, is always cheaper to collect and drop the rental car (in case you are renting it) at the same location as well as flying to and from the same airport.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to stay in the same town every night of your journey. The great thing about designing your road trip as The Circle is that you can spend each night in a different location and discover new places in a more immersive level like with The Nomad.
In the example above, from Munich to Munich via The Alps and The Adriatic Sea, you can see how diverse this kind of route can be. Long drives some days, shorter others, covering a big or small area but never loosing focus on where the departure and arrival point is.
4- Research the area
Once you have all the points above covered, it’s time to do some research.
Google Maps will help you with this fun task greatly. Look around the starting point and whether you know anything about the area already or are new to it, pick town names around the map and search them (check pictures, tourist sites, Wikipedia, etc).
Nowadays, you can find any information you need and more online. However, I always like to buy a guide book from the place I’m visiting. This will not only help you trace the best route and learn about the culture and history but will also become very useful on site. Whether it is because is convenient when there is no Wi-Fi around and you don’t want to use the roaming data, or simply because you rather have a palpable book about the region you are in, a guide book is a must in such a journey.
5- Trace the Route
Now that you know the area, you can easily design the road trip of your dreams.
Depending on the road trip style you have chosen, your needs, and how you prefer to spend your time you can now decide the ideal length of everyday’s ride. Consider your companions (if any) when tracing the route or even do it together, it could be an interesting experience and everyone would feel involved.
It is sometimes very easy to underestimate the impact of having long rides every day, to the point that it can become more of a duty than a fun adventure. So allow yourself some rest and stay in the same place for a couple of nights every now and then and/or plan for a short ride the day after a long one.
If it’s your first time organising your own road trip, don’t panic if something goes wrong. It’s part of the learning process and every disastrous trip will become a fun anecdote in the future.
Don’t forget that the whole point of designing your own road trip is to have fun and learn new things about the places you are going. If you don’t find any joy by doing so, seek a professional travel agent or follow other people’s road trips from blogs, magazines, or somebody you know.